Why Google's Chrome OS will be a success
9th Jun 2013 | 07:00
Google's Chromebooks are struggling - but the idea is right
The statistics for Chrome OS adoption don't make pretty reading, and we're three years down the line from its launch. However, if Google is patient enough, then its vision of a Chromebook future has a strong chance of becoming a reality.
While seasoned users are attached to their local storage and desktop apps, for the next generation a browser-based life isn't so inconceivable.
More encouragingly for Larry Page, it seems most people who try a Chromebook actually quite enjoy the experience, myself included.
Corner an unfortunate victim and begin espousing the virtues of Chromebooks to them, and their first response is usually to ask why would anyone buy such a limited piece of kit? Surely it's better to buy a normal laptop that can run Chrome plus everything else as well? Yet you only have to look at the runaway success of the iPad to see that for a lot of us, less really is more.
Fast start, no slow down
Why have so many casual users picked up an iPad instead of a new laptop (or in addition to their old PCs)? Because it's fast, simple and uncluttered. It can't run Photoshop, but it doesn't matter. The analogy isn't perfect, but Chromebooks bring the same fast, simple and uncluttered ethos with them. They start up in seconds. They don't slow down over time. You're on the latest version of all your apps, all the time.
If you've ever let on to friends and family that you know something about tech, you've no doubt been called on as emergency support whenever a device of any description in the local neighbourhood breaks down. The problems I've had to wade through on other people's computers all have certain common denominators: out-of-date software. Junk apps and toolbars. Viruses and spyware. Failing hard drives. Buggy Windows registries. And, invariably, not a backup in sight. All of these problems are swept away or at least minimised on a Chromebook. If I had the money, I'd buy a PIxel for everyone I know.
There's no point pretending the online apps that inhabit the Chrome Web Store are as powerful as their desktop equivalents. We're some way from Adobe Illustrator or iTunes in the browser, but the signs are that we'll get there before too long. There are a few scenarios — gaming and video editing, for example — where the Chrome Web Store doesn't cut it, but there are more than enough office apps, photo editors, music players and other tools to keep most people happy... and that's if you ever use your computer for anything other than Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Switching to a machine that depends on a Web connection is a little scary at first, but consider this: how useful is your existing desktop or laptop without online access? At my last place of employment, whenever the Internet broke down, we all went home to work.
And how many places do you visit where Wi-Fi access isn't available? What's more — and lean in close for this one, because it seems to be something of a well-kept secret — Google Drive works offline. And so does Gmail. You can write a novel on a Chromebook from a remote island without a bar of Wi-Fi in sight.
ChromeOS isn't a perfect Windows/Mac OS replacement that's going to work for everyone, and many of you will have perfectly valid reasons why you don't want to sign up; but it is a slick, streamlined platform that makes sense for a lot of users, and which deserves to find a wider audience.
Why not read our guide to the best laptops around: 25 best laptops for every budget